Every new year I see people declaring that this is the year that they will understand their camera, take better photos, and overcome their perceived photography difficulties, but a lot don’t go anywhere – there’s not an easy magic wand that can be waved to fix it, googling courses will make your head hurt (trust me, I’ve been there), or the courses you can find make the assumption that you live somewhere considerably closer to the equator than one of the poles, that it never rains in your neck of the woods, and that you can just step outside at 4pm to take a photo without any pesky day job managers getting rather irked.  Those last sites are usually run by perky ex-cheerleaders too, and I have to admit, there’s only so much hyper-cheer I can take ;o)

I have promised a few people that I would help them in the past, but things have always been busy, so the time has always been ‘later’.  It’s later now!  I have a plan whereby once a month I will issue you with a challenge that will help you to learn more about your camera.  Two weeks later I will write up a post explaining about what kinds of thing you should have seen in the challenge, and will include a linky party for you to show me your efforts.  I will try, over the course of time between link ups to get round everyone and do a little critique for you.  Does this sound like a plan?

Now the first thing you will need to do is work out what kind of camera you have.  A pre-requisite of this challenge series is that you will need to have a camera that allows you to change the settings manually, and unfortunately most compacts do not fall into this category – most phones these days have cameras that will match up with the majority of compacts.  On the plus side, the cost of bridge cameras and DSLRs has come down dramatically over the years, with an entry level DSLR going for £200-£300, and a bridge camera coming in at around £100 – £150, especially if you look around in the January sales, or February sales, or, well, there’s usually a sale on or cashback offer somewhere ;o)

Reviewing Your Camera Options:


  • Compact cameras are, as the name suggests, compact.  They are designed to fit in your pocket, or a teeny wee clutch on a night out, and generally have only one or two buttons.  They’re good for quick snaps, but unless you start shelling out for the very high end ones, don’t give you much control over what comes out save for zooming in and out and maybe turning the flash on and off.


  • Bridge cameras are there to be a happy medium between a compact and a DSLR.  They’re bigger than a compact and usually have a fixed lens, but allow a lot more control over your images since they let you change a lot of your settings.
  • The DSLR is the most flexible of the bunch.  They have interchangeable lenses, in built and external flash options, and the ability to change every one of your settings if you should feel the need to do so.  DSLRs are sold in many price brackets, from the £200 to the £8k + mark, but for the most part, unless you have plans to truly supersize the shot you took of a band in a dark club with flashing lights in order to cover your living room wall, you will be able to take perfectly good shots with the entry level versions.  In fact, of all the things to spend money on, spend more money on your lenses than the body if you have the choice.

DSLR Brands & Lenses:

  • Don’t get caught up in brand wars!  Photography forums are absolutely full of Canon Vs Nikon debates.  Both Canon and Nikon produce high quality DSLRs, and the leapfrog each other regularly on who has the most pixels or whatever.
  • Be aware that if you are buying a DSLR, you are buying into a system, so check out what is available that will go with your chosen body.  The most commonly available lenses and flashguns are for use with Canon and Nikon bodies, whether produced by the brands, or produced by 3rd parties.  Sony, Olympus and Pentax also make bodies, but there tends to be less options for them when it comes to lenses and accessories, and they can tend towards the pricier side.
  • Sigma, Tamron and Samyang are the main 3rd parties making lenses for several brands of bodies, and are generally cheaper than the name brand option.
  • Most entry level packages come with an 18 – 55 mm lens, which allows you to go from a fairly wide angle, to a fair length zoom.  Depending on what you want to take photos of you can buy a whole collection of other lenses from 10mm to 800mm, but it’s best to work out what you want to do more of and what you want to change before leaping in to buy things.

What Do I Have?

It’s only fair for me to show you what I’ve got to play with.  I’ve built up my kit over the years, usually through overtime payments from work (it helps if one works in an industry that goes through crazy periods where they will shell out for you to work all the hours in exchange for cold, hard cash)  There’s more I would like, but I’m going to embrace the ‘work with what I’ve got’ option for now (not least because the current job pays me back in days off ;o) )


So I have a Canon 7D, with 17-55mm f2.8 lens.  I also have a Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens, Canon 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 lens, Canon 50mm f1.8 lens and Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6 lens.
What would I like to change?  Actually, only the 70-300, because it has some rather irksome ‘features’, like zoom creep if you’re pointing the camera downwards, but since I don’t do that often, it’s not top of my list of priorities.  Plus, I got this photo with it, so it isn’t awful ;o)
I absolutely adore my 7D/17-55 lens setup, but I started out with a Canon 20D with the ‘kit’ 18-55 lens, and added the 70-300mm just before I went to South Africa, with the idea that I might run into a beastie or two.  When I got the 20D, it had just been replaced by the 30D in the line up, so shops were selling it off cheaply.  A lot of the time the changes made during an upgrade are not that discernible to the average user, if discernible at all, so don’t worry too much about buying ‘last year’s model’ if the opportunity comes up at a good price!
At the time that I bought my 20D, Canon had a greater ranges of lenses than Nikon (the other main brand available then), with a budget, medium and high level range, while Nikon only had a low and high end range, which I heard a lot of my Nikon using friends complaining about – it pays to look forward with for lens choices!
If you have any questions, please let me know!  Challenge #1 will be posted on 26/01.